In your first year you will be taking core courses , not much mechanical. But first try to understand why you are studying each course. Do research on the internet and read blogs from experts. If you are studying Computational Fluid Dynamics try to understand where it helps. Then you will understand the bigger picture of why it is needed for a mechanical engineer. Do this rigorously for each course that you learn.
Next, you will attend lots of labs where you will do practical work. Dont underestimate these labs. The lab is one place where you see equipment , try to use them and understand the readings and what they mean. Again, research the internet and grasp why these equipments are needed and how they complete a job. The biggest mistake i did was to underestimate the lab. They are your interface with the real world.If equipment is old gather a team and request your admin to get new equipment. Be a leader !
Start applying for internships from 3rd year. Shortlist 50–100 mechanical companies in your area of interest (like automotive or aerospace etc) and send emails to division heads expressing your interest, with your linkedin profile. A few of them will most likely revert. Dont underestimate the power of personal emails, they work much more effectively than waiting for an internship to turn up at your door, which will never happen.
Shortlist a few blogs in your area of interest and read them every week so you are updated on latest trends. For eg if you are interested in Eco vehicles select top blogs in that area and read them. Infact when you send emails to firms for internship, you can show off your knowledge in their area by mentioning some of their work (since you have read latest updates in that area). That will be a clincher.
Learn soft skills. First write your own blogs expressing your opinion on latest technologies. That will clarify your thought process. Try to become a thought leader in areas that you want to work in. This will draw attention from industry leaders. In order to do that you need to have good fundamentals.
Learn to work in teams, with your batchmates. Try to do a few real projects in the lab, collaborate in a team. Try to present the results and summarize it in a simple way so that even your dad or mom can understand what you did. Develop your soft skills
This will make you stand apart from the crowd !